“Sigma Alpha Epsilon Bans Pledging Nationwide In Effort To Stop Hazing” – HuffPost
“Father Blames Son’s Death on Fraternity’s ‘Family Drink’ Hazing Ritual” – CBS News
“What Hazing Is Like At SAE: The Deadliest Frat” – The Atlantic
Headline after headline, the nationwide reputation of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) was further and further diminished. Then it was Chapman University’s name that came up:
“Chapman’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon Suspended In 2014 For Hazing.” – The Panther newspaper
But now it is back. New crew, new rules, new attitude. Even though members know its skeptics are still out there.
After a five-year suspension, SAE has made its return. Its new leaders are determined to abolish prior stigmas surrounding the fraternity and show the student body, faculty, and the community why this time around, they are here to stay.
It takes years to build a good reputation and only seconds to destroy one, but junior business administration major Devon Cohen, who currently serves as the chapter’s member educator, was not scared to take on the challenge.
The brotherhood is in his blood. Cohen’s father served as the national president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon for two years starting in 2013. When Cohen heard SAE was not part of Chapman’s Greek life his freshman year, he took the lead in getting SAE approved again.
Following more than a year of meetings with Chapman’s Interfraternity Council administration and Dean of Students Jerry Price, Cohen focused on building SAE interest groups and worked to rebrand the chapter’s character. By the spring of 2019, Cohen gathered a group of roughly 30 men who fit the mold of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s ‘true gentleman’ mantra and won chapter approval by the Dean of Students.
“The same expectations will apply to SAE as any other chapter,” Price said. “Since this is a new group of men unaffiliated with the suspended chapter, we don’t think it appropriate for them to be expected to meet expectations beyond that of other chapters.”
Even so, Cohen has attempted to implement positive changes to set previous rumors and reputations aside.
“Unlike other fraternities, Sigma Alpha Epsilon does not have a pledge process,” Cohen said. “From the moment you’re initiated into the chapter, you’re looked at as an equal.”
That means no more hazing. Which is where so many fraternities have gotten into trouble.
The term “hazing” is coined for new members, often referred to as “pledges” of a fraternity as a way for the men to prove their loyalty to the brotherhood. By eliminating the hierarchical status between previously initiated and incoming members, you are also eliminating the potential for hazing.
Chapman’s new SAE chapter hopes to counter the preconceived notions that arose after its suspension. Photo courtesy of Devon Cohen.
“We also require our SAE’s to be involved in another organization on campus,” said Cohen. “We want our members to be well-rounded men who aren’t just a part of this Greek life bubble, but who are actually making a positive impact on campus and in our community.”
Their efforts to regroup have not gone unnoticed.
“Sigma Alpha Epsilon has only had a few months to jump into leadership roles, but have already taken strides towards creating their first philanthropy event and [nominating] a delegate that serves on our Interfraternity Council,” said Interfraternity Council President Chase Johnsen. “They are also taking the time to learn from chapters who are doing great things for Chapman’s community by collaborating with current Greek Leaders and advisors.”
Not only has Chapman’s SAE chapter taken action to create a more safe and welcoming environment, but nationally as of June 1, 2018, Sigma Alpha Epsilon was the first fraternity to eliminate hard alcohol above 15% alcohol by volume at school sanctioned events and social parties.
As of Sept. 1, 2019, the new 15% rule — which prohibits serving alcohol above 15% alcohol by volume in any chapter facility or event without a third-party vendor license — was implemented in all of Greek life nationwide.
Not everything is perfect, of course.
SAE was the only Greek house to not participate in the Gamma Phi Beta’s popular charity fundraiser, Airbands. That led many, to say aloud, well, that is SAE for you.
But Gamma Phi Beta philanthropy chair Hanna Marcus spoke in SAE’s defense. Most of its critics did not understand the circumstances.
“As a small and new chapter on campus, jumping into an event as big as Airbands could definitely be overwhelming,” Marcus said. “Since SAE’s chapter is smaller than the other Greek organizations, they would have had to have full fraternity participation, which, on top of stepping into something unfamiliar for the first time, would have been a huge commitment. We are confident they will be a part of Airbands in the years.”
You can bet Dean Price has been watching SAE.
“Like any new chapter, they’ve had their ups and downs,” said Price. “It’s not easy, but overall, I’m encouraged by the level of commitment by the new chapter’s men and their determination to do it right this time around.”
Dean Price sees the potential of the new group of men, but it has not been quite as easy for others at Chapman to get on board.
“Everyone deserves a second chance, a fresh start,” said Paris Armstrong, a senior psychology major and member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. “But I think it’s normal for people to have their reservations about SAE coming back to campus.”
When Cohen first worked to bring SAE back to campus, he served as the president both his freshman and sophomore year, but has since stepped down into the member educator role.
“Leading a whole new fraternity, on top of being a college student, started to affect both my physical and mental health. This chapter deserves a leader who is capable of giving it their all,” said Cohen.
Although Cohen and the rest of the SAE chapter are taking their return to campus seriously, will it be enough to change the minds of the rest of Chapman’s Greek life?
“The truth is, there is a certain stigma around the Sigma Alpha Epsilon name, not even just at Chapman, and that’s hard to ignore, but actions speak louder than words,” Armstrong said.
No mistake, there is a reason for SAE’s bad national reputation.
Once known as a ‘top house’ at the University of Washington (UW), both the reputation and brotherhood of SAE began to fall after hazing accusations arose a few years back, and they have struggled to pick themselves back up ever since.
“It’s unfair that SAE has this bad rep nationwide because a few chapters can’t speak for the majority,” said UW senior Drew Melkonian. “SAE [is] not the only fraternity who
University of Washington’s SAE continues to feel the negative repercussions of its tainted reputation due to hazing. Photo by Sofia Caputo.
[has] taken part in hazing in the world, but since they are ‘known’ for it,’ it’s all we hear about. Every pledge class brings men with new beliefs, opinions, and goals to their fraternity, and that should be recognized.”
Looking back on his time as a member of UW’s SAE chapter, Mark Phillips finds the continual SAE allegations disheartening.
“I rushed SAE at the University of Washington back in 1978, and still to this day some of my best friends are brothers I met in my chapter,” Phillips said. “I know the character of the guys I went to school with, and it’s not representative of the headlines at all. Times have changed, and everyone needs to work together to leave a lasting impact so when they’re my age, they can look back on their time in their fraternity with pride.”
So what will it take to debunk years and years of misconduct headlines across America?
“Chapman’s new SAE chapter is so diverse, and every chapter has the opportunity to make a difference,” said Cohen. “We’re looking for a group of leaders who want to be a part of something bigger and embody what it means to be a true gentleman.”
Former Chapman SAE President and current Member Educator Devon Cohen has been a leading figure in rebuilding SAE’s reputation at Chapman. Photo courtesy of Devon Cohen.